One million Buddhas and some awfully big ones!
Monywa Travel Blog› entry 244 of 658 › view all entries
January 17th, 2008 – by: Deats
Monywa is a town of 300,000 human inhabitants, but if you were to count all the Buddha images, then their population would more than quadruple! Now thats no mean feat. Many temples have countless small Buddha images and icons, but if its size that you are after, then do not fear, as the region contains the Worlds largest reclining Buddha, measuring in at a whopping 90 metres. Not to be overshadowed is the second largest standing Buddha in the World, beaten only by a Buddha in Japan, which is actually the largest statue in the World! The 2 can be seen from miles around and really make a visit to the area something out of the ordinary!
Arriving into the bus station without a map and only the name of a hotel, i was a little skeptical when a tuk tuk driver said that the bus station was several kilometres from the place that we were heading.
Around 2.30pm we were on our way, with the engine squealing as the driver pushed his little speed machine to the max! The 25km ride out to Thandboddhay Paya took around 40 minutes and at the entrance were 2 large white elephants waiting to greet us - just sculptres you understand! The Temple really is a unique work of art, which took 13 years to build and contains a staggering 582,357 Buddha images.
After an hour in and around the temple, we walked a little further afield to take in some more impressive buildings in the vicinity and also to climb an impressive tower for a birds eye view over the whole complex.
Having removed our shoes, Julia and I began our ascent up the hill, with the first destination been the pagoda. An added bonus was the walkway that led into and up the pagoda and thus gave some fantastic views of the 2 giant Buddhas and also the whole park area.
With the sun nearly gone we boarded the tuk tuk and had him whisk us around to one final area. On the way we passed a huge lying Buddha that was under construction and will no doubt be the largest of its kind and ended up infront of a very fine Buddha, seated on elephants. To my immediate recollection, I could never remember having seen one like this and it really impressed me. The moon had come out also made an appearance in the blue sky, adding to the beauty of the moment. It had been a mind boggling couple of hours and already i was pleased that we had made our way out to this largely forgotten area of Myanmar.
Our evening was a little less inspiring, as promises of hot water in our room never materialised and then we had a struggle to find any reasonably priced food. Our hotel restaurant was packed with locals, but when we got a menu the prices were the highest we had seen in Myanmar so far and it was extremely dubious that the locals there would be paying so much for their Dinner! A couple of other eateries on our street obviously also saw the $$$$ signs flash when we walked in and were quoting way higher than normal for their simple pre cooked chicken and rice. Eventually we found a restaurant who were happy to accept our custom and our skin colour didn't mean that we would have to pay double. A portion of biryani and chicken was duly polished off in record time.
The following day after consulting the receptionist and our Lonely Planet, it was decided that we would be best to once more hire a tuk tuk to get to where we were going. Unbelievably a 60km round trip was a whopping $15, which in Myanmar terms is a lot of money. I couldn't believe no-one would come lower than this as petrol would only cost $3 tops and the average wage of a teacher in the country is $1 a day. Thus the tuk tuk driver made 12 days wages for a 5 hour round trip. Pretty good going. I'd also like to comment at this point that anyone going to Myanmar really should not take the Lonely Planet with them if they want advice on prices.
Our ride out to Po Win Daung caves began quite smoothly, but after crossing a large modern concrete bridge that spanned the Chindwin River, the ride took on a different perspective. The road soon turned to dusty gravel and small rickety wooden bridges had to be traversed at regular points. On a positive note, there were some lovely sun flower fields, but in stark contrast further down the road, there were many Burmese families sifting through the leftovers of the copper mines that were in the area. Having passed several mines along the way, it once again highlighted the wonderful natural resources that the government has at its fingertips and makes you ask the question 'Where is all the cash going?'.
Having only expected the tuk tuk to take an hour, we were relieved when we actually made it to the caves a little over 2 hours later! At one point we had to get out of the speed demon and help push it up a small hill! Knowing what i do now, i would certainly have gone to a taxi first to procure its services, but i guess it was an adventure!
A friendly young chap called Myo Myo greeted us at the entrance to the caves and offered to guide us around. He said we could pay him whatever we felt fair and as we didn't have to pay any entrance fee for some reason we split this 50/50 with him and gave him $3, which he seemed pretty pleased about! I dont actually think that guides are allowed in the caves, as ours grabbed a camera to make it look as though he was a tourist and he was also pretty insistent that i only hand him 1000kyat in front of the other locals and the rest he pocketed elsewhere.
Taking the opportunity for a toilet break, i re-emerged to find Julia dancing around in a panic with stories of how the macaques had just creeped up on her and tried to steal our food! I locked our snacks safely away in the bag and Myo Myo led us up to the first series of caves, passing the guilty looking macaques on the way. Joining us on our journey around the caves would be a woman who was desperately trying to sell us food to feed the macaques with. She would also re arrange our shoes every time we took them off to enter a cave (required as it is religious ground) and simply wasn't willing to leave us alone until we bought something, which we told her we wouldn't be doing. More of her later.
The caves were carved from the cliffs in the 12th century and have had additional paintings added to them, in the 16th and 17th centuries.
As we entered our final cave of the tour we heard a scream from behind us, followed by a lot of monkey noises and when we turned around, the lady who was following us was in the middle of a full scale battle with a group of macaques numbering well over a dozen. Peanuts were flying, sandals were been waved and screams on both sides could be heard through the valley. A comedy moment occured as one macaque came running past us on its back legs with a packet of peanuts tucked under both arms and one in the mouth. Between the four of us, we managed to get them away from the woman, who seemed more interesting in now taking the fight to them! Fantastic :)
Tour over, we said our goodbyes to Myo Myo and set off for another bumpy arse jingling 2 hours.
As our travel time had been much more than anticipated, we were not in time to catch the bus on to Pakokku, so had to check back into our hotel, which we weren't too happy about.
The following day was a typically early 7am start and when checking out, our hotel did give us a small discount to their credit and were still unsure why their boiler wasn't working! A tuk tuk took us down to the bus station and from here it was a 3 and a half hour journey south to Pakokku. Arriving in god knows where, we were forced into hiring a couple of trishaw drivers to take us down to the ferry terminal, where we boarded a boat to take us to Nyaung U, the jumping off point for adventures around the temples at Bagan. I was a bit annoyed that the ferry charged double for foreigners and seemed quite shameless about doing so.
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